There are few races more synonymous with fantasy than the race of the Elf. These pretentious old creatures in Dungeons & Dragons 5E are an excellent choice for any adventurer. Lithe, wise survivalists, the Elf has a fairly consistent history and an even more consistent pride. Of all of the old races, these guys are the most traditional and possibly the most stereotypical. So why might a player want to play as one of these ancient men and women? Our Elf 5E guide will help you figure that out!
Elf 5E Lore
Elves are legendary for quite a few things. First released in the Player’s Handbook, elves are tall, slender, and graceful. For most elves, every movement is natural and perfect. Their legacy for being feminine is due to the fact that men and women are essentially the same weight, a rarity amongst most races, and even the same height. Elf hair can actually be some incredible colors, like white or green. This is due to their fey origins; Elves have evolved from nature spirits!
Because of this connection to the Fey, Elves adore nature, music, magic, and all things that Fey enjoy. They are able to hide their homes with gentle magic, though anyone looking for them will find them. Elves are skilled hunters and gatherers, but they have crop patches (rather than farms; elves can use their connection to nature to make crops grow without needing plows).
However, unlike most Fey, Elves often feel the years much harder. With the ability to live for nearly 800 years, Elves take hold of information and have many, many experiences. Even the youngest Elf has somewhat dampened emotions, due to “young” being well over 100 for them.
This age has brought with it Wisdom. Elves know their options; they understand diplomacy’s importance before violence is brought to arms. They are more likely to retreat when needed, using guerilla tactics and their advanced dexterity to avoid direct conflict. However, anyone who fights an elf straight-on will discover just how potent an Elf can be in hand-to-hand combat.
Elves are skilled crafters and artisans, due to the ability to dedicate themselves to something for a human lifetime without growing a tenth of their lifespan. This same idea causes many Elves to strike out on adventure; unwilling to spend 800 years in the same spot, most head out to explore some of the world. Therefore, most Elves learn to adventure in some way; their Fey nature allow them to adapt to many situations.
Elven names are quite expansive, but they normally settle on one upon reaching adulthood. Check out our naming guide if you’re having trouble choosing one.
Elves are deeply interesting and… Oh my goodness, there are so many subclasses!
- +2 Dexterity. The statistic that all elves share, and is it a good one! Dexterity boosts it’s save (a good save to have!), AC, attack rolls, and great skill checks. It’s possibly the most flexible (ha!) ability score to have; most classes like having a touch of Dexterity on their back! This is a great boost.
- Medium Size, 30 Ft Movement Speed. The normal size and movement speed restrictions. Most races have these stats.
- Darkvision. You can see fairly well in the dark. Useful! You don’t need to rely on torchlight, which is good because you’re the party’s eyes and ears. You’ll be able to note threats that most races might not be able to find. Extremely useful in every class.
- Keen Senses. The best skill in the game, and you get it for free? You lucky dog, you! Perception is rolled constantly in most campaigns, so having it high is good.
- Fey Ancestry. A bit of a rare one. Charms are fairly common, but sleep is uncommon. You might mess with a DM’s plans to capture you… Which would be pretty funny! Not a bad resistance to have.
- Trance. Cool, you can be up and at ‘em so much faster than any other race. You halve the time you need for a long rest! This makes you a critical night guard. Keep this in mind, it’s important.
- Languages. Elvish is a solid language; a ton of languages can find a base in Elvish. Great for you!
The Darkness-loving, cave dwelling empire of the Drow are what many nightmares are bred from.
- +1 Charisma. Niche mental stat, not useful for more than talking and resisting some enchantments.
- Superior Darkvision. Twice as far in the darkness? That’s crazy! It’s a pretty huge upgrade over your standard Darkvision, since you can out-see other creatures with Darkvision.
- Sunlight Sensitivity. Ouch, that’s gonna sting. You either need to guarantee that you’ll be underground most of the time, or find some way to get Advantage… Or, manipulate the fight so it’s in the shade. Magic, ho!
- Drow Magic. Drow Magic doesn’t quite help your Sunlight Sensitivity, but it has niche uses. Dancing Lights is mostly supportive, Faerie Fire is good anti-invisibility, and Darkness… Darkness isn’t amazing, but at least you can toss it down for escaping or distraction.
- Drow Weapon Training. Good weapons, especially the Rapier. That’s some alright damage, though most classes that like weapons will have these proficiencies anyways.
The Eladrin are perhaps the closest to their fey routes, and as such have some latent fey magic.
- +1 Charisma. Niche mental score. Good for casters that use it. Otherwise just good for talking and defending against enchantments.
- Fey Step. A bonus action teleport is useful, and this one is augmented based on your Season. It’s good for an emergency escape, and you can even use it aggressively with many of the Season options. Good for melee builds!
- +1 Intelligence. A rarely used mental score. Great for the casters that use it. Otherwise, only some Intelligence saves exist, and Intelligence skill checks are fine, but are pretty specific.
- Elf Weapon Training. Great weapons here, though Elves are best with the ranged options and the Shortsword. This does give easy access to Longbow on Rogue, which is great!
- Fey Step. Misty Step is one of my favorite spells! This is a great thing to have in your back pocket.
The traditional Elf option.
- +1 Intelligence. Good for the Intelligence casters. Otherwise… You get some knowledge skills… And one of the least used saves in the game.
- Elf Weapon Training. Solid weapon options, especially the Longbow. You might find that these weapons are redundant for some builds, but bringing Longbow to the Artificer, for instance, might be fun.
- Cantrip. A free Wizard Cantrip might not seem too strong. However, there are a ton of offensive and utility cantrips available for you. You can do something like Green Flame Blade for area of effect damage, or Fire Bolt to have a ranged option. So many options for you!
- Extra Language. A bit of learning never hurt anybody! Pick a language based on what campaign you’re wandering into… Or a universally good one, like Draconic.
An alternate option to the Elf Weapon Training class feature, based on Eberron.
- Aereni Training. Expertise is a powerful ability, and a rare one to get. If you don’t see yourself using these weapons (such as going for a Caster), then this is a perfect replacement. Great for out of combat situations; you’ll be dominant in your role!
An alternate option to the Elf Weapon Training class feature, based on Eberron.
- Valenar Weapon Training. You lose Longsword and Shortsword, but get two great weapons. The Scimitar is pretty much equivalent to the Shortsword, but the Double Scimitar is… Arguably better than Longsword? Hard to say. It’s certainly more niche, and isn’t finessable. You might choose this (if allowed) just for Scimitar over Shortsword.
Mark of Shadow
Before you take this archetype, we highly suggest you make sure your DM is good with Dragonmarks.
- +1 Charisma. A niche stat, but good for talking with other people and a decent saving throw.
- Cunning Intuition. Performance checks don’t tend to matter overmuch, but stealth is great! If you’re creative, this can be an insane trait. Even if you’re not, the Stealth is more than enough to make this good.
- Shape Shadows. Once again, Minor Illusion requires huge creativity. However, free Invisibility, once per day? That’s insane! Really good option.
- Spells of the Mark. Gigantic list of illusions to add to potential spells known. Some winners include Pass Without Trace and Greater Invisibility. Slap this on a Warlock and you’ll be really happy!
Rather feylike elves from Wildemount.
- +1 Wisdom. The best general mental stat. A really common saving throw, and a great mental stat for skill checks. Even better if you’re a caster or a Monk!
- Incisive Sense. Two niche advantages, but you have them permanently. Advantage on Insight is great if you’re paranoid during a social situation. Investigation is admittedly hard to use, but Advantage lets you figure things out without needing to be smart.
- Blessing of the Moon Weaver. Some pretty hard to use spells. Light doesn’t matter much for an Elf. Sleep is quickly outleveled. But Invisibility will always be useful!
Sea (Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foes)
Elves… In the water. Who would have thought?
- +1 Constitution. Weird stat for an Elf, but still great! This boosts your health and is an extremely important save.
- Sea Elf Training. Extremely niche weapons, none of them really using your great Dexterity (other than the Crossbow). Net can be fun to have in your back pocket.
- Child of the Sea. 30 ft swim speed is solid, and so is breathing underwater. Important for an oceanic campaign. Otherwise… You can totally take the role of water-checker!
- Friend of the Sea. Okay Aquaman. This is extremely, extremely niche. But… It’s hilarious when you get it to work!
- Extra Language. Aquan is actually pretty great. If you’re anywhere near water, Aquan will be a good language to have for you.
Shadar-Kai (Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foes)
These guys are sworn to the Raven Queen, and thus are stuck between life and death.
- +1 Constitution. Great. You get a little more HP, and you can resist dangerous effects easier.
- Necrotic Resistance. This sounds better than it is, sadly. Necrotic damage is fairly rare. When you fight undead, or a necromancer, you’ll be the happiest soul alive.
- Blessing of the Raven Queen. You get to cast Misty Step once per day, and eventually get really tanky after you do so. The perfect escape plan, and can even serve as a good melee engagement tool.
These guys are really in-tune with nature. They make for natural druids and rangers, and fight for nature at all costs.
- +1 Wisdom. The most useful mental score. Great for making saves and making Perception checks.
- Elf Weapon Training. Good choices, especially the Longbow. That’s a hard-hitting ranged option! The Longsword isn’t great, but everything else is.
- Fleet of Foot. Insane! That’s another square of movement, allowing you to outrun most creatures with two legs. Perfect for repositioning for ranged attacks or melee attacks.
- Mask of the Wild. Not horrifically useful. At least you can hide in a few more scenarios.
If you’re allowed to play every Elf option in the game, you can play almost every single class perfectly. You just have so many options!
Good Classes for Elves
- Artificer. Grab one of the Intelligence elves, and Artificer is great for you! You’ll have fantastic AC, be able to stay up all night tinkering, and have the utility of the Intelligence Elves… Which is admittedly the slightly boring High Elf and not much else. We suggest Aereni High Elf, since that boosts your out-of-combat usefulness.
- Bard. Elves are great singers. Your high Dexterity will let you be a threat with a weapon and have the AC to protect yourself. Eladrin, with their highly useful fey step, is great here, though the Mark of Shadow offers a ton of utility for you.
- Cleric. Not perfect, but far from bad. With Wood elves, you’ll have the Wisdom to be good at spellcasting, and the Dexterity to let your AC stay high. You can even do the rare Ranged cleric, if you prefer!
- Druid. Wood Elves are better Druids than Clerics, since the Dexterity is better used here. We suggest not going for a Wild Shape build, since your AC will be relatively good as an Elf.
- Fighter. Most Elves can be good fighters, but the Sea or Shadar-Kai elf are both great here. Using your Dexterity to attack and your Constitution to be tanky, you’ll be a massive battlefield threat! You’ll be best at ranged attacks, but a sword and shield build can be a big problem for your enemies.
- Monk. Wood Elves make stellar monks! You’re already fast, you’ve got some additional ability to hide from opponents… You’ll be wasting your Weapon Proficiency, but having a backup Longbow doesn’t hurt!
- Ranger. Wood Elves are solid Rangers, too! You waste your Weapon Proficiency (go Aereni if you can!) but you get so many good stats, great utility, Perception for free… This is probably as close to optimal Ranger status as one can get.
- Rogue. You can kinda throw a dart at the Elf subclasses list and get a good Rogue option. If you don’t care about stats, the Eladrin are great for teleportation and getting into good positions. Otherwise, the Shadar-Kai can stay alive for a longer time… And High Elves are good for Arcane Tricksters.
- Sorcerer. Sorcerer elves have fantastic AC, can use Trance to always be ready for a fight, and Darkvision to see threats. Of the several Charisma Elves that you can choose from, the Eladrin holds a special place in my heart. That teleport is so useful for getting away from a bad situation… And you won’t have to spend a spell slot on it!
- Warlock. The Warlock Elf is similar to the Sorcerer, in that you’ll be pretty tanky. Trance doesn’t matter as much for a Warlock as it does for the other casters, but you’ll still have loads of utility. The Mark of Shadow is best here, because it adds a lot of good spell options to the Warlock… Though Eladrin is still fantastic!
Bad Classes for Elves
- Barbarian. The Barbarian is the only class that the Elf is bad at. The Elf doesn’t have any way to get Strength, which the Barbarian relies on heavily. Sea Elves or Shadar-Kai can be… Okay? If you’re willing to sacrifice damage, a Dexterity Barbarian can be okay. Just not optimal.
- Paladin. Dexterity Paladins are fine, but Paladins favor Strength so much. You’re basically ignoring Heavy Armor just to boost your Dexterity. And Strength melee weapons tend to be a bit better than Dexterity melee weapons. This is far from a bad build; just not quite optimal, unlike the other 11 classes that Elf can do well.
Elves are insane. You have so many race options, your racial traits are fantastic, and your race’s history is quite enticing. If you want to play… most any class, the Elf is a solid pick for you!